Nursing home chain faces lawsuits, arbitration and fines alleging negligence

By: - April 28, 2022 2:51 pm

The family of an Iowa man who wandered away from a Waterloo nursing home and was found days later in a ditch is suing the home for alleged negligence. (Photo by Getty Images)

The family of an Iowa man who wandered away from a Waterloo nursing home and was found days later in a ditch is suing the facility’s owners for alleged negligence.

The wife and children of Michael Jensen, a former Wartburg College music instructor, is suing Ravenwood Specialty Care and the home’s owners, Care Initiatives of West Des Moines, in Black Hawk County District Court.

According to the lawsuit and state inspection records, on July 6, 2020, Jensen wandered away from Ravenwood, where he resided. At the time, the facility had documented numerous previous attempts by Jensen to elope from the facility.

After the staff noticed Jensen was missing, the grounds were immediately searched, the police and family were notified, and additional staff were called to the home as the search expanded. On July 10, Jensen was found in a ditch, submerged up to his chest in water. He was taken to a hospital and admitted to the intensive care unit for treatment of sepsis, hypothermia, potential skeletal or heart-muscle damage, and a breakdown of his skin. He remained in the hospital for 22 days.

The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals subsequently fined the home $8,750 for regulatory violations related to resident safety. Because the home didn’t appeal the fine, it was reduced to $5,687.

The family’s lawsuit alleges negligence, breach of contract and dependent adult abuse.

At Care Initiatives’ request, the court has agreed to stay the proceedings while compelling the family to pursue their claims through arbitration rather than litigation.

Court records indicate Jennifer Jensen, Michael Jensen’s wife and legal guardian, signed an agreement at the time of her husband’s admission to arbitrate any “controversy or dispute, claim or disagreement” arising out of his care at the facility.

That arbitration agreement explicitly states that the Jensens waived their right to a jury trial by signing the agreement, and that the arbitrator’s decision will be final and unappealable, and that no punitive damages are to be awarded through the process.

The Jensen family might still be able to pursue in court a claim of loss of consortium, although such a case would most likely require an arbitrator’s finding of negligence.

Other Iowa families have found themselves in a similar position after signing arbitration agreements.

State imposes separate fine for alleged medication error

Recently, the state proposed, but held in suspension, a $14,000 fine against Ravenwood home, in part for another alleged medication error. During a resident’s examination at a nearby hospital, doctors found two pain-killer patches, each containing the powerful narcotic fentanyl, on the resident’s body – the apparent result of the Ravenwood staff mistakenly failing to remove one patch before applying another.

A hospital physician told inspectors he felt the increased fentanyl represented a significant medication error that had caused the resident to be sedated, leading to pneumonia and hospitalization.

Wrongful death claim proceeds toward trial

A wrongful death claim against a Cass County nursing home is proceeding toward trial despite an initial effort to have the claim addressed through arbitration.

The family of Marian Finnell is suing Atlantic Specialty Care and its owner, Care Initiatives, in Polk County District Court. The family alleges that on July 3, 2019, a temporary worker at the Cass County home mistakenly injected Finnell with insulin that was intended for Finnell’s roommate.

According to state records, Finnell had complained about the injection to other staff, who were unaware of what had transpired and took no action. Minutes later, Finnell was found slumped over in her wheelchair, unresponsive.

She was then taken by ambulance to a hospital and placed in intensive care for due to hypoglycemia, hypotension and other issues tied to the injection.

Finnell died in November of that year, allegedly as a result of complications from the injection.

Care Initiatives initially asked the court to stay the court proceedings and compel the family to have their case heard by an arbitrator, citing an arbitration agreement that was signed at the time of Finnell’s admission. The family later filed court papers indicating the agreement was signed by a family member who didn’t have power of attorney with regard to Finnell’s affairs.

Care Initiatives subsequently withdrew its motion to force arbitration, and the case is now scheduled for trial in April 2023.

GrapeTree Medical Staffing is a co-defendant in the case and is alleged to have provided Atlantic Specialty Care with the worker responsible for the insulin injection.

Care Initiatives and GrapeTree have each denied any wrongdoing in the case.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.